Women of History: Emma Thompson

February 18, 2016

Portrait of Emma A. Thompson, circa 1886–1892. P01711. Photo by Rugg.

Emma Thompson (1842–1913) met the discoverer of Christian Science twice—for the first time. Well, not really. But she did have a rather interesting experience to tell.

Her first encounter with Mary Baker Eddy took place in 1862, in Portland, Maine. Thompson (then Emma Morgan) was seeking relief of chronic, debilitating neuralgia (nerve disease) from Phineas P. Quimby, who had developed a healing method based on his study of hypnotism and other techniques. Eddy (then Mary Patterson) was consulting with him at the time, in her ongoing search for a reliable spiritual healing method.

Fast forward to September 1886. Eddy had in the interim discovered Christian Science and established the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston. Through reading Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Thompson had finally found permanent healing of her illness in 1884—for her struggles had continued over two decades following her visits to Quimby.

When Thompson arrived at the College from Minneapolis to take her first instruction in Christian Science healing, in September 1886, she realized the author of Science and Health was none other than the woman she’d met in Quimby’s office 24 years earlier. She subsequently published a signed testimony stating that there was no similarity between Quimby’s healing method and Christian Science.1 This was helpful to to Eddy—beginning in the 1880s some of her opponents claimed she had stolen Quimby’s methods and turned them into a religion.

The following month Thompson was listed in The Christian Science Journal as a public practitioner of Christian Science in Minneapolis. She subsequently took instruction to become a teacher of Christian Science in 1887 and, along with her daughter Abigail, was invited to be a member of Eddy’s final class in 1898.

The considerable correspondence between the two women in our archive reveals that Eddy relied on Thompson as a trusted worker. Her devotion to Eddy and the religion she founded was borne out not just in the healings she accomplished through prayer but also in the stand she took for establishing Christian Science in a city at the edge of the American frontier.

While Thompson was publicly courageous about defending Eddy against unjust attacks from the Minneapolis clergy—as well as from spiritualists who sought to discredit Christian Science—she also drew needed strength from Eddy’s prayerful encouragement, in messages such as this early one: “You have nothing to fear from 10000 mind curers. Why do you feel shocked at things unreal …? Rise from the nightmare of mesmerism. Quimby left this stain on your mortal belief, now wash it off in Science Christian Science that rests in calm strength, on the sure foundation that God is all ….”2

When Eddy received a visit from Abigail in 1896, she spoke to Abigail about her mother’s work: “… she [Thompson] has been humble enough, and selfless enough to continue steadfast in the healing work until she has given to the world an exact proof of the way Christian Science should be demonstrated…. I want you to take this word back to her—to organize a Second Church in Minneapolis, and tell her that the church she founds will stand, because it will be built on a solid foundation of Christian Science healing.”3

Emma Thompson fulfilled Mary Baker Eddy’s request; over 5,000 would attend the church’s 1903 dedication.4 Together with Abigail, she continued nurturing the expanding community of followers in Minneapolis through her healing ministry there, until her death in 1913.

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  1. The Christian Science Journal, November 1896, 184
  2. Mary Baker Eddy to Emma Thompson, 16 March 1887, L05563
  3. Rem. Abigail Dyer Thompson, 15
  4. Journal, November 1903, 484-488